anger

Exit 156. More than I’d like to admit.

Yesterday at church, the topic of the prodigal son’s older brother came up.  For those of you who don’t know the story (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus tells a story of a wealthy man with two sons.  One of them tells his father screw you, I don’t want to wait for you to die, give me the inheritance so I can go blow it all on booze and hookers (paraphrased).  After doing so, he eventually runs out of money, finding himself poor and doing a humiliating job just to stay alive.  He decides to go back to his family, apologize, and offer to work on his father’s farm to make up for wasting his share of the family fortune.  But before he even has the chance to beg his father for a job, his father rejoices that his son has returned and prepares a feast for him.

The man’s other son does not share in the joyful mood, however.  He says, essentially, hey, wait a minute, I’ve been loyal and faithful all my life, so why don’t I get a party? Why are you celebrating this jerk who abandoned the family fortune and blew it all on hookers?  Dad replies, essentially, I still love you, but we have to celebrate because your lost brother is found.

The story is an illustration of God’s love for his people and his desire to bring us back into relationship with Him, even with all our sins and mistakes and mess.  God sent Jesus to die for the sins of all human beings, not just the Jews.  The brother in the story represents the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ time who were obsessed with their rules and their way of life.  They were unable to accept Jesus because he did not fit their narrow-minded idea of what the coming Messiah would be like.  They resented the fact that Jesus was reaching out to tax collectors, prostitutes, and those on the fringes of society, while criticizing the Pharisees’ narrow-minded views despite their outward, yet empty, displays of devotion.

I was thinking about this, and I realized that I’m more like the prodigal son’s brother than I like to admit.  I often find myself a bit resentful when people’s lives still involve all the things I was always told was wrong, yet they manage to be happy and successful and find the kind of church involvement and fellowship that I’ve been struggling to find for the last decade.  Hey, wait a minute, I’ve been loyal and faithful, so why don’t I get all that?

If I’m ever going to be happy, I need to put an end to this kind of thinking now.  I have no right to feel this way, and my attitude is exactly that of the people that Jesus criticized most harshly.  For one thing, I haven’t been loyal and faithful.  I’m not perfect.  I am a sinner saved by grace, just like everyone who has made me feel resentful, and I should be thanking God for this.  My supposed outward signs of piety aren’t what is important here.  And I can’t keep comparing my life to that of others.  I have to let go of everything I had once hoped for that isn’t going to happen now.

I know in my head exactly what is wrong with this line of thinking.  The hard part is actually changing the way my mind works…

Exit 142. It’s hard being angry and feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it.

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone from the one dance place I’m still attending regularly; I’ll call her 2M1207.  We had never talked about my work until yesterday, and she was interested to hear some of my thoughts about being a teacher.  I said something I’ve said often before: 7th grade is both the best and the worst age to teach.  You have the nice kids from stable homes, who are just starting to emerge into maturity but are still childlike enough to give me the fun of working with children.  And then you have the angry tough kids from broken homes, who are at the height of defiance and have not yet been humbled by harsh reality.  In my current position, I have a lot more of the first type than the second, at least compared to the other school where I once taught 7th grade.

Regarding that second group of students, the ones I referred to 2M1207 said, “It’s hard being angry and feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That statement really hit me.  Because it sounds a lot like me.  But not about school.  I know the feeling of being angry and feeling helpless.  That’s how I feel about a lot of things in the world right now.  The world is really messed up, and it doesn’t make sense to me, and it often feels like I am out of options.

Of course, there are options.  I just don’t always see them right away, because they require thinking outside the box, trying something different than what I have always done before.  And the same can be applied to the angry students I come across.  There is help for them, but they have to think outside the box… and I may need to also in order to understand completely where they are coming from.

I don’t know if my conversation with 2M1207 will help me out of my anger at the world, but hopefully this perspective will help me in my next interaction with an angry student.

 

Exit 135. Careful discernment on my part.

A few days ago, I ran into a family that I’ve known for almost 11 years, but who I don’t see too often anymore.  More specifically, I’ve known the parents for almost 11 years; when I met them, a few weeks after I moved here, the wife was very pregnant with the first of the four children they have now.  The dad of this family is one of the pastors of the church I attended from 2006 through 2015, and both the dad and the mom have done worship music at this church.

It was good to catch up.  But the whole time, it felt a little awkward, like the feeling you get when you run into someone after burning your bridges with them.  Don’t get me wrong here; I do not consider anyone in this family to be someone I burned a bridge with.  I really am glad I saw them.  It just felt awkward in my head because I didn’t exactly leave that church on good terms.  It had nothing to do with any members of this family, or even anyone at that church, specifically; the reasons were a combination of feeling like there was no place for me there anymore and not agreeing with the direction that the leadership wanted to take the church.

This awkward feeling is nothing new.  There are many unresolved hurts from my past, and some of the people involved I still cross paths with occasionally.  Every situation is different, but often, with people I was once very close with, I find myself honestly wishing that we could be friends again.  But it’s not always that simple.  Subconsciously, what I really want is for things to be exactly like they were, in my head, before the hurt ever happened.  But that is embracing an unrealistic alternate reality that isn’t true.  Things change, people show their true colors, and I can’t just shake off being hurt and let everyone walk all over me and treat me like crap, or else it’ll keep happening again and again.  It definitely requires careful discernment on my part, on a case-by-case basis, whether to keep those who hurt me at arm’s length or let them back in.

This post is kind of turning into a stream of consciousness… but all this was in my head the other day.  Back to the pastor and his family who I saw the other day… they are definitely not people I want to keep at arm’s length, because, as I said, the reason I left that church was not because of them.  Last year, on one day when I was particularly frustrated at my old church, that pastor messaged me later suggesting that we sit down sometime and talk about why I’m so angry about all of that.  I sincerely meant to get back to him after I had a chance to process why I was so angry, if there was something else at the root of this frustration, but I never did, mostly because I never really took that time for processing.  Also, I was dealing with a lot of things emotionally all right at the same time, and I was always busy with work.  But some of my recent soul-searching revelations have been tied to the roots of this anger, so maybe I’ll have to take him up on that offer soon… or at least get back in touch with him to say what didn’t get said last year.  And maybe there are other people I need to get back in touch with and say things that haven’t been said.  And maybe there are still others who I need to cut out of my life for good, because at this point keeping some people in my life might do more harm than good.

Exit 132. It reminded me of the way I’ve been mistreated.

I voted for Gary Johnson.

This is not going to be a political post, so I’m not going to go into detail on my thoughts on the issues.  So here’s the short version: I wasn’t expecting him to win a majority of the electoral vote.  I mostly just didn’t want a vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump on my conscience.  I dislike them both, for different reasons.  And I don’t agree with Gary Johnson on some things, but the thought of him in the White House scared me less than the thought of either of the two major candidates in the White House.  And I do not regret one bit voting the way I did, so all of you who kept telling me that a third party candidate can’t win, save your I-told-you-sos for someone else.

So… anyway… even though I wasn’t 100% behind all of Gary Johnson’s views on the issues, and I don’t agree with all of the Libertarian Party’s stances, this year felt different.  With Clinton and Trump so widely disliked, many voters were looking for an alternative. Johnson had previously won two terms as governor of New Mexico, so he had relevant political experience.  He was polling over 10% in many states a few months before the election.  He was popular with certain subgroups of the population, and in a few states, such as New Mexico and Utah, his numbers were looking like he might actually have a chance to win.  No third party candidate had won a state since 1968, and in an election projected to be close, like this one, just winning one or two states might be enough to ensure that neither of the two major candidates would win a majority of the electoral vote.  According to the Constitution, this would lead to the House of Representatives choosing the President, with each state getting one vote (as opposed to each Representative), and this would open up the possibility of a compromise with the Republican Congressional delegation not being unified behind Trump.  The chance of that actually happening was small, but like I said, this year felt different, and it felt like time for the unexpected to happen.

But it did not happen.

Evan McMullin of Utah entered the race late and took most of the Utah anyone-but-Clinton-or-Trump voters away from Johnson.  Johnson got a little over nine percent of the vote in his home state of New Mexico, and over five percent in only a few other states.  Nationally, Johnson won a little over three percent of the popular vote, a number very similar to his showing in my home state of California.

Watching this phenomenon kind of annoyed and disappointed me, because it reminded me of the way I’ve been mistreated over the years by people who I thought cared for me.  People get all excited about something that I’m also a part of, but then in the moment of truth, they back out and abandon me, much as many people who polls said were voting for Gary Johnson apparently abandoned him and the rest of the Johnson voters.  There have been times when I have made group plans to go out to dinner, game nights, movie marathons, sporting events, and the like.  Many of my friends act interested at first, and then many of them back out at the last minute.  Not only is this frustrating, but sometimes this leaves me with tons of uneaten food at my house, or a responsibility to find someone at the last minute to take a ticket I’ve already paid for.

Similarly, in my 20s, I was surrounded by Christians who preached an extremely restrictive and conservative message regarding dating and sexuality.  I did my best to conform: I made friends with girls instead of actively pursuing them as romantic interests.  I tried my hardest not to masturbate or have overly flirtatious and sexually explicit chat room and instant message conversations, and when my willpower wasn’t strong enough, I felt immensely guilty and down on myself.  Meanwhile, many of my friends who were so passionate about this lifestyle eventually threw all that stuff out the window and started doing all the things they preached so loudly against.  They told me that I was single because God doesn’t want me dating and I wasn’t praying enough, just before they went home to watch porn and have sex with their significant others that they weren’t married to.

Why do people do this?  I don’t know.  I do have a few theories as to where all the prospective Gary Johnson voters went.  There probably were not as many of them to begin with, since much of what I was reading on the subject came from the Johnson campaign itself, which had a vested interest in skewing statistics to make their candidate seem more popular.  As I said before, many of them, especially in Utah, voted for Evan McMullin instead.  Some of them probably decided that they were so repulsed by one candidate that they voted for the slightly less objectionable candidate just to stop the slightly more objectionable one.  Some of them probably were so repulsed by both candidates that they did not vote at all.  Some of them probably lost faith in the ability of anyone to go up against the two-party system that they voted for the slightly less objectionable candidate.  That’s their right, and I’m not here to blame third-party voters for a major party candidate winning or losing any state.  That’s not how it works.

As for why my friends acted in ways that made me feel abandoned and backed out on, I know even less.  Some of the people in my life just aren’t true friends, just as many potential Johnson voters weren’t truly on board with his candidacy.  With social plans, sometimes things genuinely do come up.  People get sick.  Family members have emergencies.  And as for the Christians-don’t-date lifestyle, sometimes people get caught up in a certain lifestyle or viewpoint because of the people around them, without actually having a life-changing commitment to this lifestyle, and when circumstances change and they see other viewpoints, sometimes they fall away.  I don’t want to be angry with my friends.  I understand that things come up sometimes.  And everyone has their own journey of faith, and everyone who has left Christianity or become more liberal in their interpretation of Scripture has their reasons for doing so.  It is not my place to judge their faith.  I have things to learn from them, and I certainly see some things differently now than I did as a new Christian 20 years ago.  Many of these things happened to me a long time ago, and I don’t think it is healthy to carry grudges.

I guess I’m mostly angry at the world in general.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much I can do about it.  Life isn’t fair, and people will disappoint.  I’m just going to have to find a way to deal with it, and this is a process that will take a long time.

Exit 125. Shining a spotlight on one of the things I dislike most about myself.

I had a strange dream the other night.

I was eating sushi, which doesn’t happen very often to begin with.  Sushi isn’t in my regular rotation of food, although I have a lot of friends who love sushi, and although I’m sushi-illterate, staring at the menu and randomly hoping I’ll like whatever I pick, usually I do in fact like it.  Anyway, I was with a few other people.  (I think I remember who one of them was, and he is definitely not someone I would ever be in a social situation like this with, but that’s not relevant right now.)

For some reason, in my dream, I went outside, leaving my food on the table.  (As is often the case with dreams, certain details stand out clearly even when they make no sense.  I remember exactly where this sushi place supposedly was: in Davis, in that strip of stores near 2nd and E Streets across the parking lot from Baskin-Robbins and the Paul Sykes memorial.  Again, I have no idea why this specific location was in my dream.  I’ve never eaten sushi there, and I don’t even know if there is a sushi place in that shopping center.  That area holds no particular significance in my life beyond memories of seeing Paul and his band (warning: link contains NSFW language after the song ends) a few times in 1995-96 and a painful rejection experience in 2000 at a restaurant in that shopping center that no longer exists.  But, again, not important.)  I don’t remember why I stepped outside, but I saw someone outside and started talking, which took longer than I thought.  When I got back to the sushi place, the people I was with had moved to an outside table, but my food was still inside.  When I went back inside to get it, it was gone; I asked the server what happened to it, and he said he threw it away, because he didn’t know if I was coming back.

I was angry.  I yelled at him and said they were the worst sushi restaurant ever, and I was going to tell all my friends not to eat there.  He said he had to throw my food away, because it would have spoiled by then based on how long I was gone (okaaaaaay), and I yelled at him that I didn’t care, I was hungry.  Then I stormed off, back outside to the people I was with.  I left soon after that, feeling terrible about myself for blowing up and making a scene, but as I passed the restaurant again on the way to my car, I felt a sudden urge to go inside and yell again at all the customers inside that they were wasting their money because this was such a bad place of business.  Then, as I got in the car, I felt terrible about myself because I couldn’t let it go.  I felt like a real jerk.

I don’t remember much after that.

But I think this dream was shining a spotlight on one of the things I dislike most about myself.  Every once in a while, I really do get very angry in public at people who are only doing their jobs, in ways that happen to be inconvenient for me.  And, just as in the dream, I always feel terrible afterward, often to the point of apologizing to whomever I blew up to.  Once, I even sent a letter to a place of business apologizing the next day.  But still, getting upset in public like that is childish, and it doesn’t help anyone with anything.  It doesn’t happen often, but it shouldn’t be happening at all.

I’ve improved the last few years at stepping back for a minute and calming down when I get really upset with the kids at work.  Maybe this dream is a reminder to do the same thing in situations like these.